Are You On The Right Path?

The one question that I hear the most from clients is this: “How do I know whether I’m on the right path for me?”  

The problem with this question is that it presupposes that there is a singular “right” path for all of us and all other ways are somehow “wrong” for us. 

That presupposition creates a tremendous amount of pressure to find the one perfect thing that will lead us to happiness.  It makes decision-making difficult because we fear making the wrong decision. And it takes out the fun of being curious and exploring new and exciting options.

This is similar to the thought that there is one single “soul mate” for every person on the planet.  The truth is, you could be happy with any number of partners on the planet.  When you find someone whom you really like and trust and who really likes and trusts you back, that’s a good match. The same concept applies in our careers: we can find any number of careers that we enjoy, find meaningful, and have the skills to do.    

For these reasons, I recommend that clients drop the “is this the right path for me?” question and ask a different question instead:  

“Am I doing something that will lead me to make a contribution in a way that I find both enjoyable and meaningful?” 

If the answer is yes, then keep going!  You’re enjoying the work and also solving a problem that you find meaningful or purposeful.  That’s work worth doing.  

Getting To the Root Of The Problem

If the answer is no, stop and figure out what’s not working for you.  

Is it that you don’t enjoy the work?  That’s reason enough to find something different.  We don’t have to love every minute of every day at work, but if you want to find fulfilling work, your level of enjoyment, engagement, and enthusiasm is key.  

If you used to enjoy the work but no longer do, try to figure out the true cause.

Sometimes people evolve and need to move on to different work. In his excellent book The Great Work Of Your Life, Stephen Cope recounts several stories of people making mid-career transitions or finding encore careers, which can be part of the normal growth process. This is something to be embraced.

But if you no longer enjoy your work because you don’t like your current role or don’t feel challenged anymore, you might not need a complete career overhaul. You might just need to take on new or different responsibilities or shift your work back to your particular zone of genius, i.e., the work that makes you feel energized and engaged.

If you enjoy the work but you’re worried the problem you’re solving isn’t important enough or compelling enough, ask yourself why.  

If you don’t find it compelling enough because there is other work that you’d rather be doing instead, then by all means, make the switch!  It will never feel like exactly the right time, but if you start taking action now to move you in that direction, you will thank yourself later for having the courage to try something new.  

But if you’re worried that it’s not “important” enough because of some external measurement of importance or because you’re afraid of what others might think, it’s worth looking at whether that concern is valid.  

I sometimes hear from clients who would like to do more creative work wonder whether it is “important” enough in the world when there are so many other problems, like injustice, poverty, and disease to battle.  But that thought wholly disregards the critical role that creativity and beauty have on uplifting the human spirit.  It can help to reframe your thinking about the work.  For example, you could decide to think: “There are many different ways to do important and meaningful work, including uplifting and inspiring others.”  

Not everyone will share that thought, but you can decide that that’s okay. They don’t have to agree with you.  Their opinions don’t determine whether it’s true for you or not:  the only person who gets to decide that is you.  

Don’t Expect Your Work To Make You Happy

Just like it’s a bad idea to rely on other people in your life to bring you happiness, it’s also a bad idea to expect your career to “make” you happy. Your happiness has to come from within—from you. 

You can have your dream job and still not be happy if you’re constantly thinking about what’s wrong with you, the world, or the people around you.   

That’s because happiness is an emotion that, like all emotions, comes from our thoughts.  If you’re not managing your thinking and your brain is looping in a negative thought pattern, you’re not going to feel good and you may mistakenly believe that it’s your job’s fault.   

This is why I always recommend that my clients work on managing their thinking and cultivate their own happiness where they are, before they make a big career change.  

We are in an incredible moment in history in terms of opportunities to make a contribution.  If you’re not doing work that you enjoy or that is meaningful to you, ask yourself what is keeping you from that.  If you think that your current circumstances are keeping you stuck, consider that it’s possible to get unstuck by changing your approach.   

There is no one right path, but enjoyable, meaningful, and purposeful work is available to you now.  When you know that, you’ll be much more willing to go out and find it.

XO,

Charise

P.S.  If you’re having trouble figuring out which path to choose, schedule a free strategy call with me here.  You’ll walk away with clarity and confidence about what to do next.   

What Is Essential

In his excellent book entitled Essentialism, Greg McKeown advocates for simplifying our lives and our days down to the very essential.  He defines being an essentialist as someone who consciously chooses to do only what is most important to him or her and says no to everything else.  

Of course, in order to do that, you have to know what’s essential to you. In other words, you have to decide ahead of time what you value most and want to spend your time doing.  

I couldn’t agree more.  This exercise of identifying priorities and core values is one of the very first things that I do with my clients who are seeking greater fulfillment in their careers. 

The simple exercise of writing down your top three priorities and putting them in order of importance is a simple practice that can have a dramatic impact on your life.  Having them written down on paper can act as an abbreviated personal mission statement to help guide you in times of indecision.  

Why We To Decide Our Priorities Ahead Of Time 

In the book, McKeown recounts the 1982 Chicago Tylenol Murders case, in which Johnson & Johnson had to react to a series of poisonings in its Tylenol products.  The company had a credo written in the mid-1940’s by Robert Wood Johnson that clearly stated its priorities in order of importance:  the company’s responsibilities were to the customers and medical professionals using its products, then its employees, then the communities where its people work and live, and then its stockholders.     

That credo (which was etched in stone at the company’s headquarters) provided clear direction in a moment of crisis, allowing the company’s management to do what was in the best interest of its customers—initiating a massive recall—even if it meant a massive decline in its stock value.  That approach set the company apart as a model of integrity and was ultimately what saved the brand and allowed it rebound so quickly.  

What Happens When You Have A Personal Mission Statement 

When you have a clear set of priorities in order of importance, you essentially have a personal mission statement that can guide you in your decisions through life, similar to Johnson & Johnson’s credo. This is especially helpful when unexpected (and difficult) decisions arise.

For example, I’ve always prioritized my family over my career.  Work is obviously important and I’ve made plenty of sacrifices for it over the course of my career, but ultimately family comes first. 

Several years ago, my grandmother’s eightieth birthday fell a few weeks before a major trial was scheduled to begin on my biggest case and I had been planning for months to fly to my hometown for the celebration.  Despite knowing about it well in advance, as the date of the weekend trip approached, one of my bosses at the time was feeling nervous about the approaching trial. Even though we were not behind on any projects and had no upcoming immediately deadlines, he questioned whether I should attend the weekend celebration.  

I told him that I understood his point of view but that it was not a trip that I was willing to miss, especially given that there was no real emergency or deadline.  I had worked hard to finish my existing projects ahead of time so that I would be free to go on the trip. It was a particularly important trip for me because my other grandparents had passed away earlier in life and I wanted to be there to celebrate my dear grandmother becoming an octogenarian.  

I went to the celebration without a tinge of regret. The day I returned from the trip, the judge postponed the trial for a year.  Had I listened to my boss, I would have wasted a precious opportunity for nothing. But you’ll never truly regret living your life according to your mission statement.

What Is Your Mission Statement? 

What is the most important to you?  Your family?  Your friends?  Your health?  Your creative projects?  Write down just three priorities and then list them in order of importance.  

Here’s what mine looks like:  

(1) My health and wellbeing; 

(2) My family; and 

(3) My career.  

It may be hard to put your own health and wellbeing at the top of the list. Most women worry that they’ll be considered selfish if they make themselves a priority.   

But if you put your family above your own health for the long term, your health will eventually begin to suffer.  When that happens, you won’t be able to help your family in the way that you’d like or show up as the mom you’d like to be.  As they say in the South: “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” 

And just to be clear, putting yourself first does not have to mean going on 10-day yoga retreats in Costa Rica (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that!).  For many moms, it might simply mean getting 8 hours of sleep most nights, going to the gym twice a week, and taking 15 minutes a day for mediation or journaling.  

Because, as McKeown also points out, sleep and self-care are also essential to a life well lived.  

Have a beautiful week.

XO,

Charise 

How You Answer This Question Will Determine Everything

You have two selves inside of you.  We all do. 

Each of us has a self that is curious, creative, full of wonder, inspired by possibility, and that seeks fulfillment, meaning, purpose, and joy.  

And then we have another self that just wants to keep us alive.  It is not concerned with our ultimate fulfillment. It is solely concerned with our long-term survival.  An alarmist by nature, this self is constantly worrying and naysaying to keep us from doing anything that could harm us in any way.  

The former is often referred to as our higher self or our inner mentor or guide.

The latter is often known as our inner critic or inner drill sergeant.

Regardless of what you choose to call them, those two selves are fighting for air time in our minds day in and day out.  Your fulfillment and success in life is determined by this single question:  Which one are you going to believe?  

Why This Question Matters

You can pretty much bet that, if you’re human, anytime you want to do something new or different, these two selves are going to have something to say.  

Which one you believe is going to determine what you’re willing to try.  And if you’re not willing to try anything, you won’t be able to achieve the results you want.

It’s really hard to find fulfillment and success by listening to the inner critic. Even if your higher self is urging you to pursue something more, believing your inner critic will keep you stuck. About 100% of the time.

Learn The Difference Between The Two

It’s worth taking some time to get to know these two selves, so that you can recognize which one is talking to you.

Your higher self is very future focused and says things like: “It would be really fun to try ___” and “I think I’d really love to do ___.” It speaks of hope, inspiration, and of what could be.

Your inner critic is past focused says things like: “I could never ___ because I’ve never done that before” and “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ve never been able to do anything like that before. What makes you think you can do it now?” In other words, it says things that are cynical, rude, and that you would probably never say to another person.

When I first conceived of the idea of leaving my law firm job to move to Spain and start my coaching practice, I was euphoric for most of the day.  

My higher self was coming up with all the ways that I could make it work.  It told me about all the fun things that we could do, how I could get the time I needed to get my business off the ground, how great it would be to spend time with my husband’s family, and all the reasons why the plan would work. After almost an entire day of this, I was starting to believe that it might really happen and I was practically levitating.

And then, just as I was trying to go to sleep that night, my inner critic woke up and burst the bubble that I had been floating in.  We had a conversation that went something like this:  

Me: I think I can make this plan work.

Inner critic: Um, not so fast.  This could get us killed.  

Me: Excuse me? 

I.C.: That’s right.  You could die on the airplane over there.  

Me: Oh, come on.

I.C.:  And what are you trying to do to your kids?  Ruin them for life?  

Me: Give them an unforgettable experience abroad?  

I.C.:  They’re going to hate you for moving them and leaving their school that they’re so comfortable at right now.  And you’re going to be homesick because you’re going to go from this comfortable home to a smaller flat that will probably have noisy neighbors and loud mopeds driving by at all hours of the night.  

Me: Well, they do have a lot of mopeds in Spain.  

I.C.:  And this is all ridiculous anyway because what makes you think you can succeed as a coach in your own coaching business?  Have you ever tried that before?  

Me:  Well, no.

I.C.: Exactly!  Because it’s a terrible idea!  

This went on for hours and I barely slept at all that night, wrestling with the part of my mind that wanted nothing to do with the new plan that I’d hatched.  

Recognize Your Inner Critic For What It Is

I struggled for months, not knowing which part of my mind to believe.  Finally, I got coaching on the issue and was able to see, with the help of my coach’s objective perspective, what was really going on in my mind.  

The reason why I wasn’t able to see it myself was because the thoughts coming from my inner critic that were swirling around in my mind felt like facts.  I was believing what my inner critic was telling me and as a result, I felt tremendous fear that almost stopped me in my tracks.  

Putting some distance between your thoughts and you is the best way I know to keep your inner critic at bay.  It is imperative to recognize that you are not your thoughts.

What your inner critic tells you are just thoughts that your mind is generating in response to a new situation. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way our brains work.  

If you hear your brain starting to raise an alarm, you can ask yourself if you’re truly in a life-or-death situation.  (Note: Other people’s opinions about you will not kill you, even though it might feel like it.)  If it’s not, then you can just notice what your brain is telling you with curiosity and say something like, “There goes my brain again, trying to keep me safe.” 

Get Comfortable With It 

I wish I could tell you that after I made the decision to listen to my higher self instead of my inner critic, that the struggle ended and I lived happily ever after.  I did move to Spain, but the newness of that transition was not always easy, especially during the first two months.  Now that we’ve been here for six months and we’re used to everything, my brain has decided that it doesn’t want to leave to go back home.  Of course it doesn’t.  It doesn’t like change.  Ever.  

Your inner critic will continue to freak out on you on a regular basis, especially if you take any kind of risks whatsoever.  

But here’s the cool thing:  If you know that and actually expect that, then you won’t be inclined to believe what it tells you.  You won’t make it mean that you shouldn’t move forward.  

In fact, you can even make it mean that you’re on the right track. And that’s when the magic begins. 

Go forth, grow, and bloom.

Charise 

Are You Making Your Life Harder Than It Needs To Be?

We all know that life can be hard sometimes.  But did you know that your brain is likely making your life much harder than it needs to be?

That’s because one of your brain’s primary goals is to avoid pain, both physical and emotional.  

The problem with this approach is that pain, especially emotional pain, is inevitable in life, especially if you want to grow by trying new things, have relationships with people who don’t always do what you want them to do (i.e., every other human on the planet), and put yourself and your work out into the world for potential criticism.      

Our brains try to spare us from emotional pain by fighting against negative emotions when they arise. If you’re like most people, your brain is fighting against negative emotions on three levels. 

The first is by avoiding the negative emotions themselves by trying to find a distraction or numbing out the feeling with a hit of dopamine, which provides some temporary relief.  (Think bingeing on chocolate, wine, Netflix, online shopping, social media, etc.)  

The second is by creating more negative emotion by telling ourselves that we shouldn’t be feeling negative emotion in the first place, otherwise known as resisting negative emotion. For example, you might feel tense when you are preparing a big presentation at work. That’s no big deal and is a common response to preparing for public speaking.  But if you start berating yourself for feeling nervous, i.e.“What is wrong with me?  Why am I so nervous about this?”, it will only create more negative emotion (probably shame) about the negative emotion you already had (nervousness). You will then also start to resist the shame by finding a distraction or numbing the feelings.  This is counter-productive and makes your life much harder than it needs to be.    

The third is by reacting to the negative emotion in a way that doesn’t serve you.  For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic and you feel overtaken by your emotion and yell at the other driver even though your kids are in the car. Reacting also makes our lives harder because we have to live with the consequences, which are almost always negative.

There are a few things you can do to coax your brain into making your life easier for you.

How To Make Your Life Easier

The best way that I know to make your life easier on yourself is to learn to feel and accept your negative emotions.  

Negative emotions are (by definition) unpleasant, but if you can learn to allow them, their power over you will diminish.  For example, let’s say that you’re feeling angry after a colleague interrupted you in a meeting.  When you’re feeling angry in the meeting, you probably start spinning in your head about what he did and how he shouldn’t have done that, and scanning for memories of all the other times that you can remember that he’s done something rude.  

But while you’re spinning in your head, you’re not focusing on the meeting anymore, and when your boss asks you a direct question, you might not even hear it.  

This reaction to anger is not useful.  To diminish its hold on you, try just feeling the anger and accepting it immediately, so that you can move on and get your attention back to where it needs to be.  

You can do this by identifying the emotion and then accepting it immediately by saying “and that’s okay.” For example, “I’m feeling angry and that’s okay.  Humans feel angry from time to time and I’m feeling angry now.  Nothing has gone wrong here.”  Then, get back to business. (You can always go back and process your anger later at a more productive time.)

Similarly, if you’re feeling the urge to avoid a negative emotion with a dopamine hit, consider stopping yourself and saying: “I feel the urge to eat these cookies, and that’s okay.  It’s okay to have an urge and not act on it.  I can just notice it, instead.  I can notice how my brain thinks the cookies will solve the problem.  I can notice that, actually, the cookies will not really solve the problem.”  

Then try to find the primary emotion that is creating the urge for you, and accept that emotion. “I’m feeling restless and that’s okay. This is what it’s like to feel restless. I can handle this. It’s okay to feel restless sometimes.”

Just acknowledging the emotion and letting yourself really feel it will bring you a greater sense of ease, even while the negative emotion is still present.

Lower Your Expectations

When I teach clients how to coach themselves to feel better by choosing better-feeling thoughts, sometimes they want to use the tool to eliminate all negative emotion from their lives.  They want to feel better 100% of the time.  After all, the world (especially Madison Avenue) likes to make us think that we should be happy all of the time.  

The problem with that is that life really is 50/50.  If you don’t know what sad is, you can’t really know what happy is, either.  Sad is what makes happy possible, just as we need shadows to really see light.  

To expect your life to be perfect and happy all the time is to create unnecessary suffering for yourself and make it even harder.  By accepting that negative emotion exists and should be present about 50% of the time, we can stop running away from the negative emotion.  

This is true for all aspects of our lives: our careers, our relationships, raising our children, etc.  Expect that it’s not always going to be wonderful.  There will be stumbles, failures, and hard times.  That doesn’t mean that anything has gone wrong. It means that everything is happening just as it should.  

When you lower your expectations, you’ll notice something interesting:  life gets less hard when you let it be hard.   

A good way to keep this top of mind is to put up post-it notes or reminders on your phone that say things like: “Nothing has gone wrong.  I feel ____ and that’s okay.”  

Welcome the negative emotions when they arise and notice the lightness and openness that follow.  

Charise